Celeste and Jesse Forever
Wry, wistful romantic comedy breaks up with Hollywood tradition
Celeste and Jesse Forever
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
Cast: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Will McCormack, Elijah Wood
Celeste and Jesse are the perfect couple. They’re inseparable. They finish each other’s sentences. They annoy their friends with their endless inside jokes. The only problem is they’re not a couple. Not anymore. They’ve been separated for six months and are getting ready to divorce one another. Not that you could tell by looking at them. This creates a problem for their many mutual friends, who find the non-couple’s clingy, codependent relationship just plain weird.
The truth is Celeste (played by the incredibly appealing Rashida Jones of “Parks and Recreation”) and Jesse (“SNL” fave Andy Samberg) are either unwilling or unable to get on with their lives. They’ve been together so long, they don’t know how to exist without each other. It’s like When Harry Met Sally... in reverse. The two have fooled themselves into thinking they’re being all mature by remaining friends. So far, though, their “divorce” consists of Jesse moving into the spare room of their house. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for personal growth.
As a result, they’ve more or less metastasized into lesser versions of their former selves. Jesse, not exactly a self-starter to begin with, wallows in his slacker-surfer-unemployed-artist status. Celeste, a tightly self-controlled “trend analyst” for a Los Angeles P.R. firm, blithely ignores all sage advice in order to bolster her neurotic need to always be right. Despite what others say, they’re perfectly happy with the arrangement. Except, of course, that they’re not. Not by a long shot.
The untenable situation eventually comes to a head one night following a drunken bout of sexual backsliding. Oddly enough, it’s Jesse who decides it would be best for all parties involved if they just moved on (and out). The two try dating other people, but Celeste bristles at this new arrangement. Ostensibly, they separated because Jesse was a slacker who couldn’t get a job and didn’t want to have kids. But, now that he’s out from under Celeste’s controlling thumb, he seems to be having a renaissance. In one magnificently telling scene, our ex-lovers reunite for lunch. He chooses the spot—a hippie-dippy vegan restaurant. At first, it’s funny to see Jesse transformed into an organic-seaweed-loving bohemian, and Celeste gleefully tears into him for it. But as the scene wears on, slow realization creeps in. Maybe Jesse hasn’t changed. Maybe this was him all along—only he couldn’t express it because he was too busy being part of the “Celeste & Jesse” show. Spotting Jesse’s growth is easy. Charting out Celeste’s is somewhat more difficult.
Fortunately, the film is co-written and executive produced by Jones, who gives herself the complex, nuanced role she’s deserved for years. Celeste and Jesse Forever is a wise, witty, melancholic romantic comedy that more or less ignores the traditional rules. Your basic Hollywood rom-com ends with a wedding or a kiss. But it’s hard to figure out how either would solve the problems of these likable but emotionally immature characters. Though C&J4E is deeply enamored with the concept of falling in love, it admits that romance can’t fix all your problems. There are certain things you’ve got to sort out all by your lonesome.
The film has a superb, distinctive voice. It’s hip without being trendy, cute without being twee. The cast clearly gets it. Elijah Wood upturns expectations as Celeste’s tragically unhip gay business partner. Emma Roberts surprises as a quietly observant tween pop star. Jones and Samberg, front and center for most of the film, have a wonderfully realistic chemistry. When they kiss, they look like people who know what it’s like to kiss one another. Best of all, though, the film isn’t afraid to sub out Hollywood clichés with painful truths. Captain and Tennille were wrong: Love will not keep us together. Turns out Joy Division was closer to reality: Love will tear us apart. And friendship? Well, maybe there’s something to it after all.